UK faces August heatwave drought and farming crisis

Authorities consider hosepipe bans and restrictions on crop irrigation as effects of extreme heat weigh

Reservoir levels have fallen across the UK as the lack of rain bites. Getty
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The UK's National Drought Group is set to meet on Tuesday following a warning from the Environment Agency that a drought in August is likely, placing even more pressure on the country's strained agriculture sector with fears mounting that this year's crop yield could already be significantly reduced.

Comprising government departments, water companies and other concerned parties, the National Drought Group convenes as when weather conditions threaten shortages ― and temperatures exceeding 40°C in the UK are certainly placing demands on the system this summer.

It will now attempt to formulate a plan to mitigate any water shortages and other consequence of the record-breaking heatwave and unusually dry weather that has beset the country in recent weeks.

The combination has already pushed the UK into the first of four drought categories ― "prolonged dry weather". And with significant rain not forecast until mid-August at the earliest, there is a strong possibility the UK will move into its second drought stage, in which water companies could limit non-essential use by taking measures such as banning the use of hosepipes.

The last time a drought was declared in the UK was in 2018, and before that in 2012.

One of the areas most affected by the extreme temperatures is agriculture, and National Drought Group member the National Farmers' Union is pressing for urgent action.

“We don’t have time to waste. The situation with water is very, very serious for growers – there are implications for costs and crop viability,” said NFU president Minette Batters, alluding to the contracts many growers have already signed with retailers.

“Who is going to be paying for these extra costs? Everybody in the supply chain, retailers, have to make sure they pick up the tab for rising costs. Growers have already signed their contracts with supermarkets. It needs others in the chain to come and take these extra costs into account.”

Ms Batters also took aim at the UK government's complacency over its water supply.

“This really does highlight the futility of just relying on imports; other European countries are in far worse situations than we are,” she said.

“We have taken our water supply for granted in this country for so long. We are not storing and moving water in the way that we should be. Water security and food security are inextricably linked and food security is incredibly important. We can’t see growers not having a viable crop.”

From droughts to floods

Following the severe European heatwave this summer, Manoj Joshi, Professor of Climate Dynamics at the University of East Anglia last week told The National that climate change is "as much about water" as it about rising temperatures.

He wasn't just alluding to problems with water supply but also but also to flooding, which is likely to become prevalent as flood water is harder to retain when the ground is hard.

Land animals aren't the only ones to be challenged. This year in the UK, the Environment Agency has been called upon to carry out far more fish rescues than usual, with record-breaking temperatures and poorly oxygenated water affecting the amphibious creatures.

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